13 Year Government vs Microsoft Case Finally Ends

Dennis Faas's picture

The Department of Justice has agreed to end its legal oversight of Microsoft. It follows a 10 year period during which the Redmond-based software company had to make itself open to examination by U.S. officials.

Basis: Microsoft Unfairly Promotes Internet Explorer

The Department of Justice has agreed to officially end the oversight on May 12, 2011.

The case brings to a conclusion a process that began way back in 1998, when the department filed a lawsuit against Microsoft, accusing it of unfairly promoting its own Internet Explorer (IE) browser by including it in Windows at the expense of rival browsers.

The government won the case, but Microsoft prevailed in an appeal. The resulting legal dispute ended in 2001 when the two sides agreed to a settlement.

Under the agreement, Microsoft would let PC makers have the option of including non-Microsoft software on new machines. The company also agreed to let other companies use some of its patented technology under license. (Source: reuters.com)

Staff Dedicated to Compliance

To make sure Microsoft stuck to the agreement, the government was granted oversight, meaning it had the right to examine the company's accounts, ask for details of its systems, and question staff.

One report claims this led Microsoft to employ 400 people specifically to deal with compliance with the agreement. That's prompted speculation that without the oversight, the company may face less bureaucracy and thus be able to respond more quickly to changes in the software market. (Source: pcworld.com)

Whether the agreement has proven successful depends on how you measure success. But the oversight period has certainly coincided at least with greater competition in the browser market. When the oversight began, Internet Explorer was used by around 90 per cent of all Internet users. Today the figure is somewhere between 40 and 45 per cent.

Days of Unchallenged Dominance Over

The oversight ends because Department of Justice officials have concluded that Microsoft has comprehensively met the terms of the original agreement. In practice, it appears the case has now reached the point where Microsoft is no longer considered too dominant, particularly in the browser market.

Microsoft says that even though it won't be subject to formal oversight, it will continue to comply with the original agreement. The difference now is that there will be less paperwork involved in documenting this compliance.

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